In our observation, there continues to be a paucity of Māori students who go on to complete their architectural degree; many drop out because they find the experience alienating and the resounding message from tutors is about support. That’s why the recipient of the award not only receives monetary assistance but also joins the practice for a minimum of 2 weeks as a paid intern which introduces them to the working environment and provides real-life role models and mentors.
The 2020 recipient of the award was Corban Richter. The 19-year-old is currently in his second year of a Bachelor of Architecture.
“I was born and raised in Gisborne – and I love it. My iwi is Taranaki, Ngati Porou and Whanau Apanui. Giving back to the community is what inspires me to study architecture, but it was travel that sparked a love of design.
I would never have got to see the world if it wasn’t for softball. I was representative player in the under 16, under 18 and under 21 squads and we played in Australia, Europe and Canada. There I saw how the built environment was a reflection of different cultures – and how it impacted them. In Amsterdam, there was so much creativity; each building had a different take. I started to think, ‘that is something I could really put into my designs’. I came back home with more photographs of buildings than people!
No one in my family had ever studied architecture but my ‘nana pop’, as we called him, was a draughtsman. He had given me some drawings before he passed away. They were so technical, and I liked the way creativity and precision came together in them, the way big, bold ideas were translated into detail.
My whanau and friends were so supportive when I told them of my plans. At Gisborne High School, there were only two of us in our year group who wanted to be architects. My school advisor told me about the RTA Studio scholarship and helped me with my CV and answering the questions. I felt so happy and privileged to be the first recipient of the award. Having the money was great but the internship was even better. You can’t put a price on getting that experience in the workplace.
My first year at university really expanded my mind. It was like learning a new language; there was so much to wrap my head around. It was so much about big ideas and I picked up some tips and tricks about brainstorming what you are going to design. In my first semester, I designed a ‘rotational retreat’ located on the beach at Young Nick’s Head. I used three pillars – a Māori battalion, the sun house and whanau – as the basis for the concept. In my second semester, the task was to put my own touch on a Claude Megson house, using a variety of computer programmes. Family is a big part of who I am, and I wanted to put some Māori ideas into the planning.
There were only a handful of Māori students in my first year’s intake so for anyone wanting to study architecture, I would say that there will be tough moments but if you enjoy expressing yourself through built design, go for it, because it’s all worth it. My dream job is to be working in the residential field alongside two or three people back in Gisborne. I am missing it, but I am excited to think that one day I can return and bring back a modernist view [with a twist] to my hometown.